Anyone who has spent enough time in sales has heard about the ABCs of selling-Always Be Closing. If you want to make money in sales, "you have to know how to get the client to sign on the line, which is dotted," as Alec Baldwin said in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross.
If you want to succeed and grow as a financial advisor, you must first understand the art of sales. You must also acknowledge to yourself that you are indeed a salesperson. Some advisors have a tough time with this. They are often the ones who do poorly.
First, you are a salesperson; second, a financial planner. After all, you can't do the planning part until you convince a prospect to do business with you.
To be sure, both parts are necessary to succeed (more on that later.) For now, the hard part is getting prospects to sit with you in the first place.
At most firms in other channels, you are not given referrals. So if you're not a rainmaker, you most likely will struggle. However, in a bank model that's usually taken care of because of a constant supply of "warm leads."
So how do you become a top producer in a bank model? You must know how to close.
Remember, it's a numbers game. First, consider the fact that competition in this business is fierce. There are over 2,000 firms selling financial products and services with more than 300,000 advisors competing for the business. So you must have a lot of meetings with prospects and you must close a high percentage. For the sake of this article, we'll just discuss the art of conducting the meeting.
In sales there is a lot of psychology at work. Even most seasoned salespeople don't realize how much psychology plays into the process. Human beings by nature are skeptical and scared of change. We all have fears and dreams. And we all buy into certain stereotypes and biases. This is how we have evolved over many years and it's kept us out of trouble for the most part. Much of the information we have is wrong but we are unaware of it-in this case, ignorance really is bliss. Just think about how many times in your life you were told something from a family member or friend that you believed to be true but found out later it was untrue or exaggerated.
These beliefs and thoughts are going through your prospects' minds all the time. They go into the meeting thinking things like investments are always risky, or don't trust a financial advisor or I am not going to buy anything today.
Sometimes they'll voice the concern as an objection. Other times, they won't-this is called a hidden objection. Hidden objections are the silent killer in sales and you must know how to find and address them. Asking a lot of questions and digging deep will eventually help you find them. There have been books written on overcoming hidden objections; the best of the lot is Brian Tracy's The Psychology of Selling.
The important thing in sales is to have a plan and be prepared in a presentation. Many financial advisors take the "fly by the seat of their pants" approach during a closing meeting. Just think about how much more business you could close if you actually had a plan of attack. Most sales trainers have their own version of a multi-step process to conduct a sales presentation. Here's my version.
1. Research the prospect. You first need to learn as much as possible about the prospect. If you are in a bank and the prospect is an existing customer, find out what you can. If you have access to their accounts you can check family members with accounts, ages, addresses, deposits and loans. Next, you can check social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and so forth. You should find conversation topics: schools, hobbies, family, travel, etc., for the next step in the process.
2. Build rapport. This is probably the most important step. People buy from people they like. If the prospect likes you they will keep listening. There is also a greater chance they will agree to meet with you again and, therefore, you will have a higher likelihood of closing. I have trained a few FAs who were naturally so likeable they had prospects practically falling in love in the first meeting. They would have a very high close ratio. You should spend at least the first five to 15 minutes getting to know the prospect and finding common areas of interest. If you can find out what the prospect's true passion is they will light up as they tell you stories. I once had a senior manager interview me and I got him talking about his days playing college ball. There were 20-plus candidates competing for the management job but he gave me the job the next day without really asking me one question.
3. Ask good questions. It's important to understand the art of asking questions. Here at the Rummage Group, I teach my consultants to "find out what a client wants and needs, and then provide it to them." This is sales in a nutshell. After rapport building, you should spend the next 10 to 15 minutes asking good questions. It's important to know what to ask and when. There's a fine balance between open- and closed-ended questions. It's always amazing what a person will tell you if you just ask. (For a list of over 50 good questions, register at our website, therummagegroup.com.)
4. Provide a plan. This is where you lay out a well-defined financial plan or product selection. You already got the meeting, obviously, which establishes the fact that you're a salesperson. So now it's time to be a planner. Indeed, you will not get a client's accounts unless you're perceived as a full planner. Make sure the client fully understands and buys into the plan. Even if you're just selling one specific product, make sure they fully understand why they're making the investment and set realistic expectations.
5. Close. Now hopefully you've learned a lot about your client. And hopefully they like you and you have provided them with a great plan. Now it's time to ask for the order and close. I prefer the assumptive close best. If you truly believe this is the right thing for the client, then of course they will want to move forward. Tell them where to sign and you're done.
6. Post-close follow-up. Most advisors drop the ball at this stage. If you're working with a new client, it's important to follow up with them a few days after you implement a strategy or plan. Your goal is to quickly reinforce the plan or strategy. Let them know all the orders were executed and reinforce the fact that you'll keep them updated periodically. Give them your contact number and remind them that you're always available to answer their questions. This is a classy step and because most advisors skip it, you'll stand out from your competition.
These are simple steps, which can easily be implemented. I would suggest all FAs read and listen to as much sales training as possible. If you aren't closing as much as you would like, start by looking in the mirror. Work hard, stay disciplined, focused and become a student of sales, and you will close more business.
Rick Rummage is the founder and CEO of the Rummage Group, which helps advisors discover career opportunities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.